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Opinion: Are Critics Gamers? I Think Not
Opinion: Are Critics Gamers? I Think Not
October 24, 2008 | By Keith Boesky

October 24, 2008 | By Keith Boesky
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    35 comments
More: Console/PC



[In this opinion piece, following up an earlier one about Metacritic, industry veteran Keith Boesky -- a long-standing game agent and attorney as well as former Eidos president -- considers the role of game critics, comparing them to critics in other fields and calling out common complaints.]

The tension between creators and critics is as old as narrative itself. I'm confident Plato's critics were latecomers to the process. But as we enter the season for release of highly anticipated, high production value, very expensive games, the critics seem to be in a bad mood - or, the industry is releasing a string of the worst games in history.

I don't think it's the latter because the games seem to be selling very well. Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway is getting an equal number of scores in the 50s and 60s as in the 90s. It's the same for Fracture and Mercenaries 2, and then there's The Force Unleashed.

The first reaction is to grab the critics by the lapels and scream, "Have you ever tried to make a game?" I guess it's a common refrain across all creative media. Even though that would feel really good, let's take a look at the issue. There seems be a growing divide between what the critics are looking for and what the game business is building.

Critics And Pop

Ironically, unlike critics in any other industry who scorn pop-oriented content, game critics embrace it. Film critics look down their noses upon the multi-hundred million-dollar-grossing summer tentpoles in favor of the black and white story of the mentally challenged lesbian in a world of men.

Literary critics scoff at James Patterson's tens of million-unit sellers in favor of the starving, under-appreciated literary marvel who drafted his manuscript on leaves while living under a bridge in central park. And multimillion unit-selling, chart-topping music is derisively called "pop."

"Pop" in all media is easily accessible. It garners huge audiences because it entertains and does not challenge. Sometimes, like Shakespeare, it endures. Other times, like with music of anyone's generation other than your own, it does not. Our critics, unlike the rest, seem to be embracing the quick fix, pick-up-and-play "pop" games and rejecting the game equivalents of the latest Pynchon novel.

Changing With The Times

In looking at recent scores, I developed a few hypotheses. Some may be rectified; one, sadly not. The first I call "The Passover Theory." According to the Torah (and Cecille B. DeMille's perennial Easter film The Ten Commandments), when G-d led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, he led them through the desert for two generations because the former slaves did not know how to live as free men. The console cycle has moved so quickly, the critics do not know how to migrate between platforms.

I believe people are hardwired when it comes to entertainment. Our earliest experiences are imprinted upon us.

The leading edge on the gaming age plane grew up in a world where we could not control the CRT. There were a limited number of television channels and we watched what was on when it was fed to us. Cartoons were only on Saturday. Time shifting happened with the VCR, but there was still no real control, no home computers with any sort of video to replace the CRT and games were crude graphics.

My soon-to-be thirteen-year-old son only knows a world where the CRT is completely under his control. Where our suspension of disbelief is broken when we move from passive to active, my son moves seamlessly, and even expects a level of interactivity in his linear entertainment -- not multitasking bullshit, but the ability to focus on things he wants.

Whether it is pushing the rewind button the DVR to replay an explosion in Mythbusters, or button-mashing in a game, he expects to be in control. His entertainment exists on a continuum of interactivity. Ours is broken into passive television watching and interactive gaming.

We can even see the difference when it comes to cutscenes. He watches them and gains from the seamless migration from cutscene to gameplay. We button through them. His ability to move from lean forward to lean back without breaking the suspension of disbelief drives him to look for content tailored to the skill.

He wants a game where the story and characters are compelling and make sense. The gameplay should be fun, but it does not have to be a pop hook -- just something fun and logically integrated to advance the story.

Asking him to play anything less is like asking us to listen to serials on the radio after we grew up watching television. We, like he with a single-hook game, will be entertained for a short time, but then put it down. We may pick it up again, but the interaction is dramatically different than with an epic.

The critics have been playing games for years and years. Many have been through at least two consoles cycles, and some many more than that. They love retro games and wax nostalgic about the greatness of the Amiga. They cut their teeth on the single hook game. They are hardwired to the "pick up and playability" of the great old games. The games had to have a hook, because the technology would not support story, depth, or compelling graphics.

None of these can replace great game hooks, but they can work together to meld a number of hooks into a single deeper game. These games meld what used to be multiple genres into a single title. We can tell a story, fight, shoot, and drive, all in the same game. The cost is emotional commitment. There is a time commitment and learning curve as well, but this investment bonds the person within the game.

Culture Evolves

It is definitely possible to make a game too hard for the audience, and as Raph Koster and Nolan Bushnell tell us, games have been getting harder for years.

But you know what? So is every other form of media. Have you looked at CNN lately? There are people talking, screen crawls on the bottom of the screen, graphics on the top, words on the side -- if you broadcast this screen in the sixties, people would have thrown up and gone into epileptic seizures.

Like people willing to read a Neil Stephenson book (the ones after The Diamond Age) there is an audience who want to invest and be challenged. Sure, these games are not going to reach into the mass market, and my wife is never going to pick one up, but my wife is not the target audience. These are games for gamers.

These games strive to engage and make you care about the characters -- and it works, at least according to this GameDaily review:

"Few World War II video games are as gripping and brutal as Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway. Expert storytelling merged with bloody and intense first person shooting keeps you pushing through the narrative and empathizing with its grizzled soldiers, who repeatedly trudge through the Nazi war machine armed with such weapons as the M1 Garand and M9 Bazooka.

"Commanding squads adds depth to the action, and the impressive graphics, which include gorgeous fire effects, sprawling environments and an action cam that highlights the gore, further immerses you within the game's war-torn world.

"Simply put, this game succeeds because its developer, Gearbox Software, went where no video game company has gone, delivering a horrific slice of WWII usually reserved for movies and documentaries.

"A character plunges his combat knife through an enemy's throat, blood splatters against walls, charred bodies sail through the air and victims get torn apart. Meanwhile, Americans and Germans scream in their native tongues, planes crash into buildings and ceilings collapse. You'll score nasty looking headshots, watch rockets rip through buildings and strap explosive charges on tanks."


This is what a gamer who never knew a world without a game console is looking for -- someone born post-1985, or most of the hardcore gamers. Metacritic decided the review quoted above equated to a 70 based on the rest of the analysis. The critics are hardwired for the short arcadey experience, and the world is passing them by.

This truth is played out in the most recent ratings. If we look at the most recent scores, everything above an 80 on Metacrtic (yes I know I said it sucks, but what else do I have to support my point?) is a "pick up and play." Titles scoring 80-plus include full-priced games FIFA, NHL Live, Pure, Rock Band 2, Viva Pinata, Tiger Woods and Madden.

Each is a single hook game, to be enjoyed without emotional connection. The higher echelon of the charts is dominated by XBLA games, including Braid, Bionic Commando, Geometry Wars, Castle Crashers, Duke Nukem and Mega Man. The common underlying factors are fun, superficial gameplay, and no emotional engagement.

Fellas, aren't those the very thing you were complaining about in the last gen? I agree, a great game is a great game, is a great game, and Duke Nukem is just as fun to play on the 360 as it was on my Pentium 133, but new games have a lot to offer as well.

Is it possible the critics' hard-wiring is precluding them from seeing the quality in the new games? Is it possible it is putting them out of touch with the consumers whose purchasing is closing in on 2 million copies of The Force Unleashed, a title the critics collectively gave a "C."

Preconception And Circumstance

The other possibility is the critics don't have enough time. Maybe the critics are not hardwired and do have the best of intentions, but don't have enough time to get into a game.

Another common element of those high-scoring games is the ability to play for 15 minutes to half an hour, in some cases significantly less, and know exactly what you will be doing for the rest of the game. Other games like Brothers in Arms, Mercenaries, Dark Sector, or just about any RPG start slowly and develop over time.

The consumer is expecting a deep experience for his or her $60 and doesn't want it to be over in the first 20 minutes. The critics on the other hand do want to get a handle on the game in 20 minutes so they can make a dent in the pile on their desks.

Wait, you say, Oblivion scored a ninety. Yes it did, but how many games were on the market at the time? The more crowded the market become, the lower the scores of the deeper games. This is odd, since the second gen games of the cycle should be getting better.

Movie and television critics are not necessarily any more aligned with their audiences than game critics, but at least they can experience the entire product before providing an "expert opinion." Very few critics, if any, play through an entire game, as it is meant to be played, before writing about it.

Finally, there may just be unrealistic expectations. After spending so much time in multiplayer Halo, Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, Rock Band and others, the critics forget the shortcomings of computer AI.

Let me fill you guys in on a secret: the singularity is not here. Computers are not as smart as people. Especially computers using most of their power to throw lots of polygons on the screen while reloading the next set of polygons and calculating the trajectory of your shot.

The critics seem to be so conditioned to real people's reactions, they forget how NPC's really behave, leading to comments like this for Brothers in Arms from IGN:

"Unfortunately, your teams are sometimes stupid when it comes to responding to commands maneuvering them to safety, which is one of the core gameplay mechanics.

"For example, you'll tell soldiers to run over in cover and dig in behind a low rock wall, intentionally placing the command ring behind the middle of the structure to ensure the safety of your troops. Unfortunately, instead of running under cover and crouching, your soldiers will sometimes run directly in front of enemy positions and leap over the wall, frequently getting turned into Swiss cheese.

"Even worse are the moments where you clearly direct them behind a wall and instead of digging in behind the wall, they dig in on the side of the wall, again leaving themselves open to fire. This is a problem that has always existed within previous Brothers In Arms games, but you'd think that it would have been fixed by now."


They gave the game a 76, or a C where I went to school. But when they encountered the same issues in Halo 3, before the multiplayer callus formed, this comment from the same publication led to a 95 review score:

"The enemy AI is generally solid, but the same can't be said for your teammates. It's been said that the world would be doomed without Master Chief. After seeing the other marines in action, that makes a lot of sense.

"The AI drivers are less like marines and more like Mr. Magoo; support troops are just fodder for the Brutes; and the Arbiter makes me question why the Elites were ever feared in the original Halo.

"Let's get the Arbiter clear. He's the bad ass 'Chief' of the Elites. He should be able to handle his own. In the campaign, the Arbiter and Master Chief are BFF. If you play alone, the AI takes control of the Arbiter and allows him to tag along. Enjoy watching your supposed equal getting shot in the face repeatedly and generally making himself utterly useless. What is the point of sticking you with an AI compatriot if all he's good at is respawning?"


This is not an attempt to say Brothers is Halo 3. I am saying it is more fun to play with other people than with yourself. Read whatever you want into the previous sentence. Other players think better, respond better and collaborate better than the CPU in the console. But Mr. Critic, please don't let it color your review. Cleanse your palate with a little bit of alone time in your favorite game before diving into your test run of these new games.

Whatever the reason, these guys are out of touch with the consumer. Hopefully the consumer starts to see it as well.

I was looking around for a pithy quote about critics to lead into this post, but instead, I found this from Jean de la Bruyere who lived from 1645 to 1696 and it sums up the thought better than I could:

"Criticism is often not a science; it is a craft, requiring more good health than wit, more hard work than talent, more habit than native genius. In the hands of a man who has read widely but lacks judgment, applied to certain subjects it can corrupt both its readers and the writer himself."

[Keith Boesky has been active in the content and technology communities as an attorney, a senior executive, an agent and now as principal of Boesky & Company. Boesky & Company closed more intellectual property and game development deals, making more money for its clients, than any other agency in the world. The Company’s clients include The Robert Ludlum Estate, Clive Barker, Spark Unlimited, Liquid Entertainment, Riot Games and GDH. The company also provided guidance regarding the structure of the game industry to Morgan Stanley and Thomas Weisel Partners.

Mr. Boesky draws upon his experience as an attorney in intellectual property and public and private finance where he represented Qualcomm, Angel Studios, Presto Studios, Rebellion, The Neverhood and The Upper Deck Company; as president of Eidos Interactive where he expanded the Tomb Raider franchise from games to other media; and as an agent with International Creative Management where he worked with talent and properties like Peter Jackson’s King Kong and Jordan Mechner’'s Prince of Persia, to bring value to the company’s clients.]


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Comments


Marcos Venturelli
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I'm sorry, but I can't take this article seriously. Stating that "critics like arcadey and pick-up-and-play games" and "Most recent 80+ Metacritic scores are pick-up-and play games" is the definition of absolute fail.



There is no emotional engagement in "XBLA Games like Braid"? Please, either study more or leave gameplay and dramatic elements based articles for people who study these subjects and take them seriously.



And Hell's Highway? "Flawed squad mechanics and a crutch-like suppression system undo the game's historical and voice-acting achievements", according to one of Metacritics reviews, pretty much sums it up.



Or we can blame this on the critics who cannot understand the new games.

Marcos Venturelli
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Oh, and I am not a game critic or journalist. I am a developer.



And I really would not want to live in a world where my games would be reviewed by people who think like Mr. Boesky.

Marcos Venturelli
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And Im sorry for the triple post, I really did not want to drag so much attention to this article, but I cannot contain myself:



The fact that BIA AI is flawed make it a problem a THOUSAND times bigger than it is in Halo 3, simply because it is a squad-based game. The critic stated it very well: "which is one of the core gameplay mechanics". You even know what core mechanics are?

Sjors Jansen
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Where do I start?!

You accuse critics of not spending enough time with games and go on to call Braid a game without emotional engagement. Mister if you weren't moved by Braid's last level I accuse you of being emotionally dead.



You accuse game critics of losing touch with consumers, yet also state they are nothing like film critics who look down upon "the multi-hundred million-dollar-grossing summer tentpoles".



And next to metacritic, you can use gamerankings for instance..



For someone who's got bio of 2 paragraphs, you sure don't make a lot of good statements. Do me a favor and get out of this industry. And take Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, Fracture, Mercenaries 2, The Force Unleashed.

Sjors Jansen
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with you. Sorry.

Anthony Charles
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I agree with the other posters that have lambasted this idiotic editorial. High sales figures are not evidence for, or even possess a strong correlation to quality media. The author cannot possibly believe that drivel unless he sits around listening to the top of the Billboard charts while watching the highest grossing films. If anyone is behind the curve it's the author. The same dynamics that allows for pieces of garbage like Armageddon to pull in massive box office allow for crap games to succeed. It is not a sign of the game's quality. In fact, the gaming industry is probably even more prone to this phenomenon, as most game's don't receive any advertising at all and a select few titles by giant publishers receive a great deal. This is why the average to below average games the author has been involved with have sold so well.



I am tempted to not comment on his assertion that critics prefer arcadey experiences that can be picked up in 15 minutes because to do so would validate it more than is justified. Critics are, by their nature, the most hardcore of gamers. This being so, they tend to favor deep, complex experiences far more than the general population. Does this guy think critics, who eat, sleep and breathe video are filling their days playing XBL/Playstation Network game

Anthony Charles
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Not to mention the games he has been involved in are some of the most generic, trite pieces of nondescript software I've seen on the next-gen systems. Brothers in Arms is lost in a sea of about 10,000 identical WWII shooters and Mercenaries' raison d'etre of "destroy everything" is insultingly shallow.



I don't care that this guy has industry credentials. This editorial is too stupid to remain on this site and it makes me doubt the quality control.

Joel McDonald
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Yeah, I'm not buying this supposed above-80 == "pick up and play" correlation. Just look at the recent top-scoring titles---Fallout 3, Far Cry 2, Dead Space, Bioshock, Fable II, etc--all titles I would consider more emotionally involved than your average arcade-game.

Marcos Venturelli
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"This editorial is too stupid to remain on this site".



Totally agree. Gamasutra is so much better than this.

Tom Newman
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I agree with the bottom line, but not for the reasons stated.



My biggest complaint about the critics is that they often overlook what the developer was trying to accomplish. Also, often times a critic can forget the genre of game being reviewed. I cringe when reading a review of a 2D shooter that blasts the game for "repetitive shooting", or a hack-n-slash adventure that gets criticized for hack-n-slash gameplay.



Also many critics feel that if they don't find something wrong, they're not doing their jobs.

Trent Polack
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here's a feeling amongst some developers, and by the opening of this article, Boesky as well, that game critics have a need to understand the game development portion of the game industry in order to do their job more effectively. This is a pretty ridiculous opinion; game journalists tend to be more gamer-minded than a bunch of game developers even do. And game developers make games for gamers; they rarely make games for other game developers.



Where I take issue with game journalism is in the way reviews are written more as glorified consumer guides than a quality piece of journalism or writing, but that's irrelevant to this discussion.



Second, there's an idea that journalists are of such an old-school mindset that they wouldn't, somehow, understand a quality game when they see it and so they dismiss great games because they're too deep or too complex. Boesky consistently refers to Brothers in Arms as if it's a great example of this because it's got a really deep story or something; I haven't played it, but given what I've seen it looks like a pretty mediocre war story that is so entrenched in its own melodrama that it might as well throw on the Dashboard Confessional over a D-Day invasion cinematic. The gameplay is interesting, but I would say it's hardly revolutionary (especially considering this is the third game in the franchise). And his other examples are Fracture, Mercenaries 2, and The Force Unleashed; all of which are the kind of Pop Music games of the video game industry. They don't provide the kind of deeper meaning that the "Critics And Pop" segment of the article would indicate.



Right now, I look at a game like Far Cry 2 and Fable 2 as the perfect counter-argument to the entire article. Neither of these games are of a "pick up and play" mentality and they're both exceptionally well-received critically.

Adam Bishop
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I'm taking a look at my shelf of video games right now, and here are some of the things I see, along with their PS2 Metacritic scores:



Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil (91) - a cel-shaded 2D platformer is anything but a "pop" game



Indigo Prophecy (83) - this is a game primarily driven by story with virtually no recognizable video game controls



Psychonauts (86) - one of the few truly funny games to come out in a while, has very little "pop" appeal



Beyond Good and Evil (86) - a game about an intelligent, interesting female character that again has very little mainstream appeal



On top of this, two recent games, Metal Gear Solid 4 and Mass Effect, are both known for their challenging, mature stories, and both received fantastic Metacritic marks. We could, to a lesser degree, throw in Bioshock too, which was successful far more for its story and atmosphere than for having great FPS gameplay. I think the main thrust of this article is way off base.

Simon Carless
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I feel there's a good point somewhere in here about playing games in a vacuum - if you relentlessly compare AI on all the WWII war games thus far, you're going to think some are significantly worse than others. But if you just pick up a game fresh, you may dig it a lot more because you don't have the context.



I'm not sure I go as far as Keith in terms of saying critics don't play games long or hard enough. If anything, the issue is that they play them so long and hard (ahem) that they don't know what it's like to come fresh to the experience. And perhaps that's not their job, anyhow.

Chris Remo
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I think it's safe to say nobody who reads GameSpot or GameDaily or IGN or 1UP is coming to video games fresh; or if they are, they are choosing to immerse themselves in writing that assumes they are not. You wouldn't expect to read a book review in the New York Times and have the writer of the review marvel at the author's ability to spell correctly.

David Saunders
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God is a bad word I see? But regardless...



We all know that just because a game sells well doesn't necessarily mean it's the best game in the world. I wouldn't be surprised if most people who bought Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games or even Star Wars Unleashed hadn't read a review of it.



My point is, either we have a lot of people who read poor reviews yet ignore them and still buy a game, or we have a lot of people who don't read reviews at all who are buying these games (last time I was in gamestop 95% of the people in there were moms, ostensibly buying games they think their children would like.). Reviewers typically write for a certain audience; I expect Gamespot to score hardcore, stable games higher than casual games just because that's who their audience is.



Maybe you're putting too much weight on the correlation between a metacritic composite and sales and not enough weight on the power of hype, strength of the IP, demographic target of the IP, and marketing. From my hardcore gamer perspective, reviewers are (generally) doing a fine job at giving me the info I need.



If you're looking to benchmark a game, don't use metacritic, it's too broad; instead use your own composite made up of websites which cater to the demographic you are targeting.

Anthony Charles
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It just seems so grossly self serving. The thesis of this couild be, "Why critics are wrong when they say the video games I've made suck".



Even more comical, while chiding reviewers for being out of touch and unaware of the greatness of Brothers in Arms he quotes a favorable review at length. He uses one review, as if it were some peer-reviewed, scholarly work that is beyond reproach as evidence to discredit the majority of contrarian reviews! The whole thing is insulting. It's like deliberate flame bait.

Devon Carver
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I think it's unfair to lambast critics for not playing all the way through games. While I'd prefer that they did, how many consumers finish most games? It's not nearly 100%.



I also second the objections that most of the other posters have with the article. As a developer I obviously want to make a good game, but it just doesn't happen every time. And knowing the process or my intentions aren't enough to salvage a crappy game. Although I will say it's too much to believe this should be taken off Gamasutra. Dissent is important.

Raison Varner
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I hope that many of these responses aren't the level of discourse that is the norm at your companies. I think many of you with strong negative reactions are reading the article with the wrong weight. I never got the impression that he is attempting to declare with definitive language the "truth."



These are broad questions put forward with some musings on what the cause could be. I don't think any of the readers should feel offended by this. Most of the questions are valid, this article is just a giant question about why there are such large inconsistencies in review scores.



To take a strongly opposing view is probably just as faulty as how you've perceived the author's stance to be as strongly on the side of developers who think reviewers aren't thorough enough.



Whatever the score a game gets, the process isn't perfect and everyone is aware of that. The goal here is just to understand and debate why that happens and how the system may be improved. Any discussion to that effect can be productive, just calling the article out as "stupid" doesn't really serve any purpose to the debate.



btw... in the jewish faith, it is common that they do not write God's name in a place where it may be discarded or erased. So its' not a dirty word, it's a token of respect to their belief in God. Just fyi...

Eric Adams
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What I wonder about reviewers is how much do they succumb to peer pressure with their reviews. A trait I have admired with Edge reviews is exposure of both good and bad elements of the game that results in a studied score for a game.



For example, in a game like Halo 3 or GTA IV where 90+ scores and accolades were the expectation, where there reviewers who exposed the shortcomings and reduced the score appropiately (say 80 to 85). Only a few that I know of showed this bravery...



Also, as someone who has worked on a few games, nothing is more frustrating to a development team than score discongruity in a review: glowing review copy but a mediocre final grade/score.

Sjors Jansen
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@Raison Varner:

===================

You are right of course. I feel disappointed that a person with his good track record displays such bad insight and makes contradictory statements because that level of experience should usually deserve my respect. I feel offended and jealous because I assume he's now in an influential position in the industry and I am not.



Also truth IS declared: "This truth is played out in the most recent ratings"... yada yada

======================



Ok ok so let's be constructive!



Critics usually do not have the same viewpoint as mainstream gamers due to:

- having too much experience with playing games.

- looking for a different experience.

- not spending enough time with the game.

- having unrealistic expectations.



Adding to that, critics are:

-contradictory when dealing with the same thing in different games.

-applying favoritism.



Cool. I'd like to add that I like the viewpoint of this so called new games journalism, where the critic should not even try to be objective, is very valid. But only when I'm able to get more info on the critic's favorite games. I need to know where his/her tastes stand relative to mine (I think some of the old magazines like CVG and mean machin

Sjors Jansen
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---continued---

like CVG and mean machines do a reasonable job there, quoting favorite games, last played games etcetera of every critic. Kurt Kulata is a critic I think does a good job without it.)



On the other hand I really don't care about the opinion of a critic, when I read a review I want the review to explain to me what the game is. Tell me what tactile experience I can expect (collision detection any good? camera ok?), how long it is, how much variation there is etc. Show me screen, let me listen to music. I'll decide if I like it for myself based on that thank you.

IGN used to do this quite well IMHO, but lately it seems like IGN's reviews are dropping the descriptive reviews in favor of opinionated pieces that I find somewhat boring, exhausting and pushy. I get the impression that games get a higher rating depending on how much they want the readers to buy the game. So as to have the readers show support for games.

However I do think they currently do their best in trying to review a game meant for a completely different audience. Taking for example their review of the DS game My Secret World.

Mickey Mullasan
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I think criticism is any view or expressed idea whereby the intent is to stop or silence other ideas in the opposition to a freedom of expression. It's like a forced democratizing of artistic intent. It's an expression against expression. Whether it is right or wrong, I feel is meaningless, since we should all have the freedom to express our artistic right even if it is against others.



The notion that criticism will change the behaviors of others is quite amazing. Just think of how much time we invest in satisfying the criticisms of others. I'm sure we've all made decisions based on the negative voice that we predict in the future spouting, "I don't like this and I'm going to make you suffer for it somehow."



But how much could we really suffer under the critics? Do they really matter?

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Raison Varner
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Hi Sjors,



Great points. I definitely agree with your breakdown. :)



In my mind, Metacritic exists because no one has found a good way to convert a totally subjective review process into a somewhat standardized system of measurement. Maybe that's the developer in me coming speaking, but Metacritic is the only site I know of that makes an effort to give a game a solid and accurate ranking, like a "poll of polls" that we hear so much about these days.



In the end it's just a system to help reduce the margin of error between reviewer opinions, various scoring systems or other variables that prevent readers from getting to the objective truth of a score.



I think what you said about knowing what your reviewer's tastes are is just about the only way you could begin to ascertain how much weight to lend his criticisms.



That and a standardized scoring system.



Any extreme in either direction is a mistake, but trying to review a 40hr game by playing it for an hour is like writing a book review after reading the introduction. And that's the only real gripe I can see about reviewers that has merit.



I imagine in the end the answer will be simple to reason out but difficult to coordinate and adopt.

Keith Boesky
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The only thing I can say is “WOW” I guess I hit a nerve. While I meant this piece to address an issue of personal concern, it was also meant to be somewhat tongue in cheek. It does not seem to be taken that way though. My rant was aimed at trying to understand why the industry relies on metacritic scores which have no correlation to sales, but a direct correlation to developers’ ability to get a game deal.

Thank you for taking the time read and comment. Some comments are dead on accurate, others, I question. All deserve a response. Let me try to explain some stuff.

First, to Messrs Venturelli. McDonald and Pollack, the post was written for my site will before the reviews of Far Cry 2, Fable 2 and Dead Space. I would however also venture to say critics had a lot more time to review these titles and extensive walk throughs with the publishers. This is what has to be done these days to achieve a score. The extra time and guidance allows the critics to appreciate the content of the games. Had the same time been afforded some of the others, the scores may have been higher. Had metacritic included different reviews, different weights, or chosen to assign different numbers to unscored reviews, the score would be higher too.

Next, Messrs Jansen and Bogesss and again Mr. Venturelli, I apologize for the mischaracterization of the narrative of Braid, which is every bit as engaging and tear inducing as Ico, if not more. The better point would have been the lack of a steep learning curve. The game is more accessible than the lower rated games. My point, is Braid is much more old school than the current crop of full price next gen games. I stated it poorly. Addressing Mr. Jansen’s contention that I undermine my argument with a poor perspective on Braid, I never said I was a critic, and my commentary on Braid is not for the purpose of criticism. I believe it is a great game, you can read my post about how great on my blog.

Mr. Jansen suggests we can use gamerankings as an alternative to metacritic, unfortunately, it is owned by the same parent company, and not an awful lot better. For more on metacritic take a look at the post linked at the top of this piece. The reason I refer to those games is the public seems to like them. They are all selling very, very well despite poor reviews.

With regard to Mr. Velli, I did provide a commentary anywhere on game quality, nor will I refer to you with the same vitriol you choose to refer to me. My point is, like film critics, game critics scores do not necessarily correlate with the games that actually sell in large numbers. This point is best made by Mr. Bishop, who is one of the few gamers who purchased games like Indigo Prophecy, Klonoa, Beyond Good and Evil, and that often overlooked gem and critical darling, Psychonauts. I did not play Klonoa, but did play and enjoy the rest. As I said above, Far Cry and Fable 2 were reviewed after I wrote this post, but you should take a look at the composition of the critics making up Far Cry’s 86, which includes Yahoo at the top an gamespy’s 70 at the bottom. Finally Mr. Velli, while I appreciate your suggestion for renaming the article “why critics are wrong when they say the video games I’ve made suck” I had nothing to do with Brothers in Arms, TFU, Mercenaries, or any of the other games I mentioned. While I do know some of the folks involved, my only connection is through playing them.

Incidentally Mr. Velli, I did not use the single review from IGN as a scholarly work, merely to show that the very same critical description was used to describe a game with a 90 plus score as a game with a very low score. The first came out before a heavy saturation of multi player gaming.

Mr. Newman, I wish I said it. . .

Mr. Polack, I am not referring to Brothers in Arms as a great piece of work – I do believe it is a solid game – my use was to show the inconsistency in reviews not only from game to game, but for the same game. I use TFU and Mercenaries to show the lack of correlation between what the critics are looking for and what the public seeks in games. The public votes with dollars, and they are buying these games. TFU is no Bioshock, but it certainly gives the Star Wars fan who does not buy a lot of games everything they want.

Mr. Saunders, G-d is not a bad word, quite the opposite, Jews are not supposed to write the name of the lord. You are right, I was not talking about quality, I was talking about sales. My interest in metacritic is that it drives the industry. A developer’s ability to get a game deal, and the size of the game deal depends in large part on the metacritic score. In most cases even more than units sold. In this world, the scores hurt. I would love to use the composite you are talking about. Please join in me in articulating the relevance to the publishers.

Mr. Bogess, by calling these games “single hook” I am not saying they are anything less than great. In many cases, like Tetris, it is a lot harder to make a simple single hook game, than a great big old long one. Simple fun is hard to make and hard to come by. Scoring these games highly and more complex games are not mutually exclusive. I was merely looking for correlations in the scores. You should take a look at Ian Bogost’s work. I think you will like it and agree. I did and I do.

Well said Mr. Adams, I wish I made the point, it is a good one.

Mr. Jansen, you are dead on with this one, I wish I said it as succinctly:

“Critics usually do not have the same viewpoint as mainstream gamers due to:

- having too much experience with playing games.

- looking for a different experience.

- not spending enough time with the game.

- having unrealistic expectations.



Adding to that, critics are:

-contradictory when dealing with the same thing in different games.

-applying favoritism.”

Finally, thank you Mr. Varner.

Marcos Venturelli
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Now thats a huge reply.



Ok, with all due respect, Mr. Boesky, the problem is not exactly that you "hit a nerve" on the subject. Yes, Metacritic reviews are, in my opinion, hurting the industry. Yes, most critics are just armchair gamers who know how to put words together and have no formal training neither in game theory or in journalism. Yes, it is awful to put numbers on reviews, and even worse to compare reviews from the same source by the correlation between their negative points and their scores.



The real reason you got so much negative attention is that you chose really silly points to rant about. Really, anyone can tell, by just looking at review scores from ANY time in the past 6 or 7 years, that hardcore games are often much more well-received by critics than the ones that "lack a steep learning curve".



Alas, this conception of judging games' accessibility by learning curve alone shows your speech is not in the same level of the average discussions I read in Gamasutra. Really, you are just getting all those negative replies because your points are silly. Fable 2 did not get rated better than BIA because it "got reviewed early", this is just ridiculous. It is a better game. Period. The fact that critics are "not aligned with what the consumers are buying" is also silly, because this is a good thing. Usually the best-selling media products are mass-production shallow pieces of generic trash. You are claiming that critics should be dumbed down, when I believe (and probably most of my colleagues too) that they should study more and, overall, be more prepared and even harsher on the AAA games, because that's what will push our media further.

Keith Boesky
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Dear Mr. Venturelli,



I believe the core of our disconnect is right here:



"The fact that critics are "not aligned with what the consumers are buying" is also silly, because this is a good thing. Usually the best-selling media products are mass-production shallow pieces of generic trash."



Publishers are in the business to make money. If the games don't sell they can't make more games.



I do not believe the critics should be dumbed down, quite the contrary. In fact people like N'gai Croal, Stephen Totillo and Ian Bogost are doing great work. They should be given more time to devote to each title, so each title may receive the attention it deserves.

Marcos Venturelli
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I never said that games shouldn't be making money, Mr. Boesky. Braid sold extremely well for an Indie game. Spore is doing very good too, and I believe that the titles you mentioned (Fable 2, FC2) will also move a lot of copies.



You want mediocre games to sell copies AND to get good reviews, and all your arguments were flawed. Publishers are in the business to make money. Why would they endorse ground-breaking gameplay, polish and innovation if derivative low-quality titles all get good reviews AND sales? This may seems like a perfect reality for the industry (it's easy money and more jobs for everyone), but in the long term it can lead to a disaster. Remember 83?



Novels, movies, music, games and other media all live by these rules. The public has cycles of interest, wich are fueled by new trends that keep coming over and over again thanks to the higher standards placed by industry professionals.

Marcos Venturelli
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This may seem*

In the long run*



Sorry for the rush.

Nick Suttner
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"Very few critics, if any, play through an entire game, as it is meant to be played, before writing about it."



Wow, that really bothers me. You're making some pretty huge assumptions here; it's one thing to speculate on how things seem to go down from the perspective of an outsider, but why would you make such a sweeping, declarative statement about something you're simply trying to intelligently explore in the rest of your editorial? It's an interesting read, but only furthers the disconnect between what people assume of the reviews process and how it actually works.

Barney Holmes
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Keith Boesky highlights the need for a sound knowledge of video game history when reviewing. The fog of the hype machine has to be seen through after all. So many games are being sold on the technology rather than the game. Crysis - DX10, BIA:HH ... destructible cover (as if there has not been destructable geometry since the early FPS's).



The critics on my Matrix DVD set come to mind. Todd McCarthy of Variety and John Powers of Vogue, and David Thomson author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film. Seemingly bought in just to look like lamers in the face of the "Uber Kool" Matrix (in opposition to the commentary by Cornel West) they actually sound brilliant and make the Matrix seem even more interesting as a movie phenomenon ... and they show what terrible plagiarists the Wachowki Brothers are.



My point ? Those reviewers have a very deep knowledge of film history. They were constantly telling me things that made me realise why they are obviously well respected reviewers. There are some knowledgeable video game reviewers but I keep seeing some drooling over "innovative" features in newer games that were explored in FPS titles in the 90's.

Andrew Pfister
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Mr. Boesky,



"I would however also venture to say critics had a lot more time to review these titles and extensive walk throughs with the publishers. This is what has to be done these days to achieve a score. The extra time and guidance allows the critics to appreciate the content of the games. Had the same time been afforded some of the others, the scores may have been higher."



Would you care to elaborate upon this, or provide some sort of evidence to back these statements?

Dedan Anderson
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Hmm- sales and quality have nothing to do with each other... case and point: mc hammer, britney spears etc... the job of the critic is not to be a popularity forecaster but to critique the craft in a way to ensure the craft survives and grows... now i disagree with the detail of this article but i do agree game critique is a serious need of an overhaul...

Dedan Anderson
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hmm i meant 'in need of a serious overhaul' dag nabbit!

Brian Pleshek
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I don't trust reviewers. Maybe i have been spoiled by the ones who do movies, but the movies i like rarely score above a C+. The highly rated ones are usually the artsy ones. Don't get me wrong. I like classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany's, Cool Hand Luke, and the Sound of Music. But today my favorites are Sci-Fi and Action and they consistantly rank low. So I don't trust them. You can't trust the awards programs usually for the same reason. If you like those types of movies, i don't have a problem with it. But don't tell me that movie x is better than movie y because you don't like a particular type. Leave it up to someone who favors the type to review.



To be honest, when I'm looking to invest $50-$60 in a game, i usually open up the hintbook. I'm not looking for how to cheat, but i am looking for how much is involved. Take an RPG for example. Is this a 20 hour game or a 200 hour one. Is the monster "dictionary" 5 pages or 40? How many pages of weapons, armor, other items are there? How many optional side quests are there? I can also see a number of screenshots to give me an idea of how the game play appears.



I have certain genres that I like mainly RPG, RTS, FPS, and 4X. But there are others that from time to time catch my interest(Banjo Kazooie, Bejeweled, etc).



It would be useful at the very least that any reviewer be "required" to list either their favorite genres or at least 2-3 games they really enjoyed. How can a person who hates violent movies honestly rate Die Hard 3 or the excellent Band of Brothers series? I ask the same thing of game reviewers. How can someone who really only likes FPS games review a RPG? At least if their biases are listed in the form of favorite titles or genres, we would have some basis for believing the credibility of a reviewer.



Brian


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